How Much Exercise Do You Need?

We all know the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle, but the recommendations and guidelines for exercise and physical activity can seem bewildering. How much physical activity does an adult need to stay healthy?

Exercise means different things to different people. The type and amount of exercise you need depends on your fitness goals. A daily walk is enough to maintain general health and relieve stress. To overcome an injury, fight osteoporosis, or manage arthritis, you need to do exercises that strengthen particular groups of muscles. If you are aiming to lose weight, you probably need 60 to 90 minutes of exercise at least 5 times a week, and you will need to continue exercising to maintain the weight loss.

The important thing is to exercise regularly, several times a week. A five-mile hike on Saturday cannot compensate for five or six days of inactivity. A steady routine of physical activity builds and maintains physical fitness.

According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you need two kinds of regular exercise: aerobic exercise for cardiovascular health and strength training for physical fitness.

Aerobic exercise (cardio) is physical activity such as walking, swimming, or riding a bike that causes your heart rate to go up. Adults need at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise every week, preferably spread over 5 to 7 days. Aerobic exercise combats heart disease, burns calories, and stimulates your metabolism.

Strength training involves the use of weights or resistance to put stress on particular muscle groups. The weights and machines at the gym are designed to strengthen specific muscles, but there are many exercises you can do at home using simple equipment such as resistance bands, hand weights, and an exercise mat. Techniques like yoga and Pilates use your own body weight to build strength. The CDC recommends doing strength-building exercises at least twice a week. Each exercise should be repeated until you have difficulty doing it again. Allow a day or two between sessions for your muscles to recover.

Strength training offers many health benefits. Weight-bearing exercise increases bone density and reduces the risk of osteoporosis. Strength training boosts your stamina so that you tire less easily. It also helps to relieve the symptoms of chronic conditions including arthritis, back pain, depression, and diabetes. Building muscle helps protect your shoulders, knees, elbows and wrists from injury. Lean muscle burns more calories than fat, so your body uses energy more efficiently as your muscles become toned.  

If done incorrectly, some strengthening exercises can injure muscles or joints. A physiotherapist or personal trainer can design a routine for your particular needs and show you how to do the exercises. You can find a wide variety of exercise programs on TV, the Internet, on DVDs and in fitness magazines. Experiment until you find a program that suits you.

If you suffer from a chronic condition or injury, ask your doctor to recommend an appropriate exercise routine.

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